The UK government has capitulated to an overwhelming public outcry
over the sale of interviews by the sailors and marines detained by
Iran, as it rushed through a ban on any further media deals by armed
forces personnel, writes Will Woodward in The Guardian.
With the controversy widening into accusations that the government was fostering a culture that devalued heroism and promoted instant celebrity, Des Browne, the defence secretary, said the navy's earlier decision – which he had endorsed – to let the 15 former detainees sell their stories had "not reached a satisfactory outcome".
While the MoD said the navy had applied existing regulations correctly, the head of the army, General Sir Richard Dannatt, allowed it to be known he was unhappy about the move.
The decision to allow the sailors and marines to sell their stories for sums of up to Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â£100,000 was condemned by opposition politicians, families of dead service personnel and former officers. Some of the 15 have already given interviews for free. Lord Heseltine, the former deputy prime minister and defence secretary, said the decision was tantamount to saying: "Look lads, Rupert Murdoch's Sun has taken over. He's got the big cheque books and if he's prepared to pay to hell with any rules or regulations, any understandings, any customs, any traditions, it's all up for grabs.' That's called New Labour. I am profoundly shocked.
"What an extraordinary story, that people who every day take calculated risks with their lives are expected to earn relatively small sums of money whilst people who get themselves taken hostage, in circumstances which are worth exploring, can make a killing. I have never heard anything so appalling," he said.
Another Tory former minister, John Redwood, condemned "a new low in the long and dispiriting history of Labour spin". Former foreign secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind said he was "appalled" and would demand a statement from Mr Browne when parliament returns next week. That call was endorsed by the Labour MP David Crausby, a member of the defence select committee, and the Liberal Democrats' defence spokesman Nick Harvey.
But last night Mr Browne claimed that pressure on the 15 and their families "made it inevitable that some of them would accept media offers to tell their story in return for payment" and the navy had faced a "dilemma".
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